Tuesday, November 01, 2005

THE BROTHERS GRIMM – Napoleonic Ghostbusters

In this movie, the Brothers Grimm are con artists who ride around rural French-occupied Germany faking witches and goblins to scare superstitious German peasants and then vanquishing with the help of shiny armour, explosives and catapults, all for a big fat fee. Heath Ledger (10 Things I Hate About You, Monster’s Ball) gives a very enjoyable performance as geek, scholar and believer in magic, Jakob Grimm. Half the time he is channelling Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys – all rapid-fire dialogue and facial ticks. The other half of the time he is channelling Steve Coogan as Alan Patridge. The performance is not quite the sum of its parts, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Matt Damon plays William Grimm, who emphatically does not believe in magic but in making money by exploiting the dumb-ass peasants. A worthy aim indeed.

Everything is ticking over nicely until they are sent by the Napoleonic head honcho to Marbaden to rescue the little girls who have gone missing in the words and are respectively excited and horrified to discover that there really is something in the woodshed – namely Monica Bellucci (Matrix, The Passion of the Christ) as a five hundred year old witch trapped in a mirror.

There are significant flaws with this movie. The French general, Delattombe, and his Italian sidekick, Cavaldi, are played by Jonathan Pryce (Evita, Brazil) and Peter Stormare (The Big Lebowski) as caricatures – absurd costumes and accents. What passed for humour in 1980s sitcoms like “’Allo, ‘Allo” and “Fawlty Towers” just isn’t funny anymore - it’s lazy.

But there is a lot to like. At its heart, there is a serious discussion about how much native culture was lost when the Christians took over Europe, and of the Enligtenment battle between faith and reason. There are many obvious and subtle references to fairy tales, all beautifully re-created with a seamless blending of CGI and old school cinematographic techniques. The whole thing is a visual feast with a few good one-liners thrown in.

Like any Terry Gilliam film, this was beset by funding difficulties. MGM pulled out at the last minute and the Weinsteins took over production. They vetoed Samantha Morton as the female lead, fired the Director of Photography, Nicola Pecorini for going to slowly and generally ticked Gilliam off. Finally, the release was pushed back to allow Miramax’s movie The 40 year old virgin to retain its number one spot in the US box office. The film was likewise mistreated by the US critics who, to a man, called it a rambling mess – albeit visually stunning. On the upside, the film was finished, unlike the ill-fated "Don Quixote", and was released, and it is not a mess. It is highly enjoyable, pure entertainment. One last thing, if you are going to see this movie you should try to make it to a cinema rather than waiting for the DVD to get the full benefit of the production design.

The Brothers Grimm has been on release in the US since the 26th August, in France and Germany since the 5th October and finally goes on Nationwide release in the UK on the 4th November.

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